OP-ED: Don't like SCOTUS decision on gerrymandering? This bill would fix it, and make elections better
Washington, August 1, 2019
The Hill |
Like most Americans, I hoped that the U.S. Supreme Court would use the cases before it this term to finally put an end to the partisan gerrymandering that has done such damage to our democracy.
Instead, in a 5-4 decision written by Chief Justice John Roberts, the conservative majority ruled that all partisan gerrymandering claims were “nonjusticiable,” a political issue beyond the federal courts’ jurisdiction or ability to decide.
The Court has effectively given a green light for politicians to ramp up gerrymanders during the upcoming 2021 redistricting cycle.
Even in this ruling, however, Roberts recognized the dangers of unfettered partisan gerrymandering, and reminded Congress that we have the power to reform redistricting.
He’s right. Partisan gerrymandering is a national problem. It needs a national solution. The time has come for Congress to act. But we need a solution that’s truly up to the task of reducing the toxic partisanship and polarization that has turned Congress dysfunctional and caused the votes of millions of Americans to be written off.
That’s why I am introducing the Fair Representation Act. My proposal would put voters back in charge and alter our current system of electing members of Congress in two profound ways.
First, it would create larger, multi-member districts of three, four or five representatives, which would be drawn by independent commissions. Smaller states would elect their members at large. The era of partisan gerrymandering would be permanently ended, and candidates would have powerful incentives to appeal to broad swathes of the electorate.
Second, everyone would be elected with ranked-choice voting, which would ensure that as many voters as possible elect a representative who reflects their views. Just imagine: A broad pool of candidates, all trying to appeal to a wider number of voters, and earn second and third choice support. Suddenly every American would live in a competitive district.
North Carolina, Michigan, Ohio, Maryland, Texas and Florida -- all states far more competitive than their deeply gerrymandered congressional delegations would lead us to believe -- would have representation that accurately reflect their political balance once again. Ranked choice voting would make it possible for Republicans to have their fair share of seats across New England, where they are currently shut out in all six states. It would make districts more competitive for Democrats in Kansas, Tennessee, Arkansas and Oklahoma.
Moreover, because it would take only 21 percent of the first-choice votes to elect a representative from a five-member district, for example, we could expect a sharp rise in the number of seats in play for women and racial minorities.
Consider issues like health care, gun violence, infrastructure, or immigration – areas in which there is broad consensus and support among the American people for solutions which are bottled up by pressure to meet partisan litmus tests in primary elections. The Fair Representation Act would change the incentives for politicians and empower those who want solutions.
Today almost 90 percent of all congressional districts are completely safe for the party that holds them. Millions of Americans -- whether urban Republicans, red-state Democrats, independents, women and communities of color -- are dramatically underrepresented. Our winner-takes-all system no longer functions efficiently in an era of hardened partisanship. The Supreme Court’s decision to uphold partisan gerrymandering will make it worse.
It doesn’t have to be this way.
In all my years in politics, I’ve never seen a moment in which so many Americans are talking about electoral reform to rebuild our political institutions. This is the moment to think big.
The Fair Representation Act may sound like a dramatic and far-reaching set of reforms, but our current crisis of democracy demands nothing less than the same bold, creative thinking that our founders brought to their task 240 years ago.
Congressman Don Beyer is the sponsor of the Fair Representation Act. He is serving his third term as U.S. Representative from Virginia’s 8th District, which lies in Northern Virginia.